Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

Akhnaten Offers L A Operagoers Both Ear and Eye Candy

Akhnaten is the third in composer Philip Glass’s trilogy of operas about people who have made important contributions to society: Albert Einstein in science, Mahatma Gandhi in politics, and Akhnaten in religion. Glass’s three operas are: Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, and Akhnaten.

Shakespeare in the Late Baroque - Bampton Classical Opera

Shakespeare re-imagined for the very Late Baroque, with Bampton Classical Opera at St John's Smith Square. "Shakespeare, Shakespeare, Shakespeare....the God of Our Idolatory". So wrote David Garrick in his Ode to Shakespeare (1759) through which the actor and showman marketed Shakespeare to new audiences, fanning the flames of "Bardolatory". All Europe was soon caught up in the frenzy.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

Tales of Ovid [Image by The Classical Opera]
30 May 2013

Tales from Ovid: Classical Opera

Since receiving some fairly mixed reviews of their production of Mozart’s Zaide at the 2010 Buxton Festival, Ian Page’s Classical Opera seem to have focused their attention on recordings and themed concert performances of 18th-century riches and rarities,

Tales from Ovid: Classical Opera

A review by Claire Seymour

Above: Tales of Ovid [Image by The Classical Opera]

 

performing in several central London venues — the Wigmore Hall, King’s Place and the Barbican — and continuing their admirable work in developing opportunities for young singers and instrumentalists, and extending audiences’ awareness of this lesser-known repertoire.

I have attended several such well-assembled and assuredly delivered performances at the Wigmore Hall, the latest of which presented a selection of instrumental and vocal works united under the umbrella, Tales from Ovid.

We began with a substantial orchestral opener — Dittersdorf’s Symphony in F major, ‘The Rescue of Andromeda by Perseus’, one of six of surviving symphonies by the composer which were inspired by specific tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The performance was noteworthy for the beautifully cantabile oboe solos of James Eastaway, particularly in the Larghetto third movement where the phrases and cadences were exquisitely shaped, and the appoggiaturas were milked for all they were worth! Indeed, the decorative gestures throughout this movement were movingly executed, and the gentle glow of muted strings and horns was tenderly demonstrative. Page shaped the lively second movement effectively, building gradually to the vigorous entry of the bright, vibrant horns. The ensemble was excellent throughout.

The operatic contribution in the first half of the concert was an excerpt from Act Three of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice: the sequence of numbers leading to the renowned ‘Che farò’. Anna Devin, confidently singing ‘off-the-score’, was an engaging Euridice. She convincingly located a range of emotions from indignation to defiance, from doubt to hope; ‘Che fiero momento!’ (‘What cruel moment’) was characterised by emotional impact, the woodwind shaping an affecting dialogue with the voice, the strings producing a focused timbre. The phrase “Vacillo, tremo” (“I sway, I tremble”) was fittingly unsettling and impassioned, full of driving energy. As Orfeo, countertenor Christopher Ainslie was less secure: the register seemed a little too high for comfort, and as Ainslie worked hard in the accompanied recitative to convey the nuances of the text, the tone became rather shrill and strained. He found a sweeter lightness, however, in the culminating aria and the gracefully shaped lines conveyed Orfeo’s vulnerability and bewilderment.

The overture and a scene from Haydn’s Philemon und Baucis followed after the interval, Devin (singing the roles of Baucis and Narcissa) now partnered by tenor Benjamin Hulett (Aret). Written in 1773 for the marionette theatre at the Esterházy palace, Philemon und Baucis did not survive in complete form — possibly the victim of nineteenth-century taste or of a theatre fire — and has been reconstructed from an extant singspiel version. It takes the form of arias and duets, sung by six marionette characters, framed by spoken dialogue; the libretto is undistinguished but the music charming.

And, there was quite a lot of music before we got to the singing. The brisk fiddle playing and punchy horn outbursts in the overture (somewhat dubiously attributed to Haydn) depicted the thunderstorm which kills Aret — the son of the peasant couple, Philemon and Baucis — and his fiancée, Narcissa, on their wedding day. Despite their grief, the old couple offer hospitality to Jupiter and Mercury who have come to earth disguised as pilgrims (cue another instrumental interlude) and in return the gods transform the funeral urns into an arbour of roses — the bucolic reliquary musically depicted in a suitably pastoral idiom.

Inside the floral dell, the lost couple are restored to life. Aret’s aria of reawakening established a quiet mood of musical enchantment, the unusual timbre — solo oboe, muted triplets and pizzicato from the two groups of violins above a firm bass — enhancing the sense of uniqueness and preciousness. Hulett’s pronunciation of the text was clear but never mannered, the gentle lyricism revealing his sense of wonderment and tentative but blossoming joy at the miracle which has occurred. Then, together, Aret and Narcissa celebrate their reunion and pledge eternal devotion; in this joyous, invigorating duet, ‘Entflohn ist nun der Schlummer’ (‘The slumber has now departed’), the crystal clear soprano of Devin blended beautifully with Hulett’s mellifluous tenor in shared ardency and joy.

Part Three of Mozart’s first opera, Apollo and Hyacinthus, concluded the programme. Hyacinthus, mortally wounded by Apollo’s discus which has been deliberately blown off course by Zephyrus, has just identified his killer to his father, Oebalus (Hulett) before expiring. Oebalus and his daughter Melia (Devin) sing of their grief, their outpouring so moving Apollo (Ainslie) that he turns the dead boy’s body into a flower, the hyacinth, (with its distinctive marking, ‘Ai’, an exclamation of anguish in the ancient world). Apollo then reaffirms his love for Melia and the three sing a hymn of praise that their forthcoming marriage may bring restoration and good blessings.

Hulett was excellent in his rage aria, expressing his fury at the murder of his son with forceful projection and accurate, supple coloratura, matched by incisive violin playing. He joined once again with Devin in their duet of mourning; their melancholy was eloquently expressed, the lines intricately crafted, the sighing appoggiaturas and chromatic inflections perfectly judged. The gentle undulations and pizzicato of the accompaniment was a perfect bed for the opulently entwining voices, and for the affecting violin solo which opened and closed the duet. Ainslie now found a more delicate tone, fitting for the young Apollo; the final Trio was exuberant and elevating.

Musically and technically, Classical Opera offered much to admire; and, judging from the near-capacity audience’s generous ovation the company certainly has a band of loyal and idolatrous fans. But, one is tempted to ask, if Page truly believes in this repertory — not only in its musical worth but also its theatrical credibility — then should such conviction not be demonstrated on the operatic stage rather in the concert hall or in the recording studio?

In some respects, Michael Maloney’s overly thespian declamation between the movements of the Dittersdorf symphony and before the opera scenes were the most explicitly dramatic aspect of the evening — and they were, in fact, redundant, since the programme outlined the mythical context and narrative in some detail and provided the text of the sung numbers. The audience is sufficiently well-informed and competent to assimilate such written information with their aural experience of the music.

Snippets and bite-sized chunks might offer melodic charm, instrumental colours might appeal and seduce, but ultimately such works need to be ‘tested’ in the theatre; only complete staged performances will ensure their incorporation into the ‘operatic canon’ and their longevity. Otherwise, the company might as well rename itself the ‘Classical Themed-Concert-Performance Company’. That said, musical standards were typically high, and we can only hope that Page gives us the opportunity to enjoy more theatrical presentations of this lovely repertoire soon.

Claire Seymour


Production and cast information:

Dittersdorf: Symphony in F, ‘The Rescue of Andromeda by Perseus’; Gluck: ‘Scene from Act Three of Orfeo ed Euridice; Hadyn: Overture and Scene from Philemon und Baucis; Mozart: Part Three of Apollo and Hyacinthus]. Anna Devin: soprano; Christopher Ainslie: countertenor; Benjamin Hulett: tenor; Michael Maloney: reader; The Orchestra of Classical Opera (leader Matthew Truscott); Ian Page: conductor. Wigmore Hall, London, Monday 20th May 2013.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):